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HISTORY

OF

THE UNITED SOCIETY OF BELIEVERS,

BY SETH WELLS AND CALVIN GREEN, OF NEW LEBANON, N. Y.*

THE UNITED SOCIETY OF BELIEVERS, or Milennial Church, commonly called SHAKERS, maintain, and with much plausibility, as they believe, that the apostolic church gradually degenerated, and mately became rather anti-christian under the secular protection of Constantine the Great, a Roman emperor in the fourth century, who, after having made a profession of christianity, was not baptized till he fell sick, A. D. 337, in which year he died in the vicinity of Nicomedia, after a reign of thirty-one years. They, however, admit that notwithstanding an extended degeneracy of true christianity, God has, in every age, raised up witnesses to bear testimony against sin and the demoralizing power of antichrist. They reckon among these witnesses the Camisars, or Camisards, or more commonly known as the French Prophets, whose origin is attributed by M. Gregoire to a certain "School of Prophets," in Dauphiny, conducted by a Calvinist named Du Serre.

what seemed to them to be, "the spirit of prophecy," their bodies were greatly agitated-they trembled, staggered, and fell down, and lay as if they were dead. They ulti-recovered, twitching, shaking, and crying for mercy, in their assemblies, houses and fields. The least of their assemblies made up four or five hundred, and some of them amounted to even three or four thousand. About the year 1705, three of the most distinguished of their number: Elias Marlon, John Cavilier, and Durand Fage, left France, and repaired to England. Under the influence of this spirit, they propagated the like spirit to others, so that before the year was out, there were two or three hundred of these prophets in and about London, of both sexes, and of all ages.*

These prophets first appeared in Dauphiny and Vivarias, in France, 1688; in which year five or six hundred of them, of both sexes, professed to be inspired of the Holy Ghost; and they soon amounted to many thousands. When they received,

• The historical, doctrinal, and statistical facts of this article were furnished the editor

by S. Wells and C. Green. The former, aged eighty years, has been a member of the society for half a century, who regrets his present inability to furnish an entire article.-Editor.

The great subject of their prediction was, the near approach of the kingdom of God, the happy times of the Church, and the millenial state. Their message was the acceptable year of the Lord.

Among other prominent persons who had joined the French and English prophets, as they were then known, were James Wardley, and Jane, his wife, formerly Friends, living at Bolton, Lancashire county. About the year 1747, a society was formed without any established creed, or particular mode of worship, professing perfect resignment, to be led and governed, from time to time, as the Spirit of God might dictate. The leading members of this society were James Wardley, Jane

Hughson's French and English Prophets.

Wardley, John Townley and his wife, both of Manchester; John Kattis, a distinguished scholar; but, it is said, did not retain his faith. Wardley and his wife Jane conducted their meetings. Jane having the principal lead in meeting was called "Mother,"

Some years after the formation of this society, a personage of no ordinary importance in the history of the United Believers, connected herself with them-afterwards known as Mother Ann. Ann Lee was born February 29th, 1736. At a marriageable age she entered the bonds of matrimony with Abraham Stanley. In 1758 she joined the society." By divine inspiration she received a powerful testimony against the carnal nature of the flesh, and, through the spirit, declared it to be the root of human depravity, and the foundation of the fall of man. Her testimony on this subject was delivered with such mighty power and demonstration of the Divine Spirit, that it was received and acknowledged as the greatest revelation of Divine Light that had ever been given to the society, and that it was beyond dispute the true gospel of Christ's second appearing."*

This revelation was made in the year 1770, and from that period Ann was received and acknowledged by all the faithful members of the society, as their spiritual Mother in Christ; and the true leader whom God had appointed for the society. Thenceforth she has ever been distinguished and known throughout the community by the address and title of Mother Ann.

A few years after this extraordinary revelation, Mother Ann received a reve lation from God to repair to America, where, as she prophesied, there would be a great increase and permanent establishment of the Church. Accordingly, as many as firmly believed her testimony, and could settle their temporal concerns and furnish necessaries for the voyage, concluded to follow her-They procured a passage at Liverpool, in the ship Maria, Captain Smith, and arrived at New York in 1774. Those who came with her, were her husband Abraham Stanley,

* Wells.

William Lee, James Whittaker, John Parlington, and Mary, his wife; John Hocknel, James Shepard, and Ann Lee, a niece of hers.

In 1776, they settled in the town of Watervliet, seven miles from Albany. Here they remained in retirement till the Spring of 1780. In the beginning of this year, the society consisted, in all, of but about ten or twelve persons, all of whom came from England. Early in the Spring of that year, the people in this country, having heard their testimony, began to gather to them; and from this time there was a gradual and extensive increase in numbers, until the year 1787, when those who had received faith, and had been faithful from the beginning, and who were the most fully prepared, began to collect at New Lebanon. Here the church was established as a common centre of union, for all who belonged to the society, in various parts of the country. This still remains as the Mother-Church, being the first that was established in gospel order. And all the societies in the various parts of the country which are established upon the same gospel foundation, and governed by the same spirit and principles, are branches of the one Church of Christ.

During a period of five years, from 1787 to 1792, regular societies were formed and established upon the same principles of order and church government, in the various parts of the Eastern States, where the testimony of the gospel had been received. The local situation of each society, and the present estimate of their numbers, may be stated as follows:

The first and largest society is at New Lebanon, situated about two and a half miles South of Lebanon Springs, in the county of Columbia, and State of New York, about twenty-five miles South-east from Albany, and contains at present between 5 and 600 persons, including old and young, male and female.

There is also one at Watervliet, about seven miles North-west from the city of Albany, in the same State. This was established soon after the church at New Lebanon, and contains about 200 members.

One at Hancock, in the county of

Berkshire, and State of Massachusetts. / power, about four years. During the This is situated about three miles South latter part of the year 1804, many of the east from New Lebanon, and five miles | subjects of this mighty work, were powerWest from Pittsfield, and contains about fully impressed with a belief that another 300 members. One at Tyringham, about summer would not pass away without sixteen miles South from Hancock, in the realizing a full display of that great sal. same county, which contains about 100 vation from sin, for which they had been members.

so long and so earnestly praying, and One at Enfield, county of Hartford, which they had not yet attained by all State of Connecticut, about five miles the light and power of the revival. East of Connecticut River, and eighteen Accordingly, near the close of the last miles North-easterly from Hartford, and mentioned year, the church at New Lebcontains about 200 members.

anon was impressed with a feeling to send One at Harvard, in the county of messengers to visit the subjects of the Worcester, and State of Massachusetts, revival in that country, and to open the about thirty miles North-westerly from testimony of salvation to them, provided Boston, which contains about 200 mem- they were in a situation to receive it. bers.

John Meacham, Benjamin S. Youngs and One at Shirley, county of Middlesex, Issachar Bates, were selected for this im. in the same State, about seven miles West portant mission. from Harvard, which contains about 150 Without any previous acquaintance in members.

the western country, or any correspondOne at Canterbury, county of Rock-ence with the innabitants, these messen. ingham, in the State of New Hampshire, gers set out on the first day of January, about twelve miles North by East from 1805, on a pedestrial journey of more Concord, which contains upwards of 200 than a thousand miles. members.

They arrived in Kentucky about the One at Enfield, county of Grafton, in first of March, visited a number of places the same State, about twelve miles South- where the spirit of the revival had preeast from Dartmouth College, which con- vailed, saw and conversed with many who tains upwards of 200 members.

had been the subjects of it, and felt some One at Alfred, county of York, about freedom to declare their mission. They thirty miles South-westerly from Portland, then passed over into the state of Ohio, in the State of Maine, which contains and proceeded on to Turtle Creek, so called, about 200 members.

near Lebanon, in the county of Warren, One at New-Gloucester, county of where they arrived on the 22d of March. Cumberland, in the same State, about They were providentially led to the house twenty-five miles North-west from Port- of a man of respectable character, and land, which contains about 150 members. liberal education, who had been a leading These were all the societies formed prior character in the revival. Here they felt to the year 1805.

freedom to declare their mission and open But the greatest and most remarkable their testimony in full, which was received increase has been in the Western States. with great joy. This man had before About the beginning of the 19th century frequently testified, by the spirit, that the a most extraordinary revival of religion, work of the latter day, which would usher commonly called The Kentucky Revival, in the kingdom of Christ, in that country, commenced in the Western States. This would commence in this place, and spread work was swift and powerful, and exhib- between the two Miamies. This place is ited such evident proofs of supernatural situated between these two rivers, near power, that it excited the attention of all Turtle creek; and there the work did classes of people, and for a season bore begin in reality, and he and his family down all opposition.

were the first who embraced it. This remarkable work extended From thence it spread, and was corthrough several of the Western States, dially received by many of the subjects of and continued, with increasing light and the revival in that vicinity; and in a short time had an extensive circulation prosperity, both temporally and spiritthrough that part of the state, and soon ually. afterwards extended into Kentucky and Mother Ann deceased at Watervliet, Indiana, and was joyfully received by Sept. 8, 1784, and was succeeded in the many, and violently opposed by many leading authority of the society, by James others. Indeed, the violence of opposition, Whittaker, who was received and acin various places where the testimony was knowledged by the society as her true received, was often so great, that nothing successor, and was known by the title of short of Divine Power could have pro- “ Father James.” Though after Mother tected the lives of these messengers, and Ann's decease, there was a number whose rendered their testimony effectual. faith and confidence centred in her, and

The testimony has mostly prevailed in extended no further, who withdrew and the states of Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana, left the society ; but there was no general where societies have been established. apostacy, nor any great decrease of numThere are at present, 1847, four societies bers. The number of this community in in the state of Ohio: one at Union Village, Mother Ann's day, was far short of what in the county of Warren, about four miles it has been for many years since. Under west from Lebanon, and thirty north by the administration of Father James, the east from Cincinnati. This is the oldest affairs of the society were ably conducted, and largest society in the Western states, and all faithful believers found much and contains perhaps 500 members. One spiritual increase, and were fully prepared at Watervliet, on Beaver Creek, in the to be gathered into united communities, county of Montgomery, about 22 miles which soon after took place. north of Union Village, and six miles Father James deceased at Enfield, in south-east from Dayton, which contains Connecticut, July 20th, 1787, and was about 100 members. One at White Water, succeeded in the administration of the SoHamilton county, 22 miles north-west of ciety by Father Joseph Meacham, who Cincinnati, containing about 150 members. was a native of Enfield, and had formerly One at North Union, about 8 miles north- been a Baptist Elder and preacher, and east from Cleaveland, containing about held in much estimation200 members. One at Groveland, Liv. Father Joseph was thence received and ingston county, New York, about 4 miles acknowledged as the true successor of south of Mount Morris, containing about Father James, and as the spiritual Father 150 members. The three last named of the Society. Under his administration, have been formed since the year 1824. together with others, as helps, both male There are also two in Kentucky, formed and female, who formed the ministry, the not long after that in Union Village. One people who had hitherto been scattered far at Pleasant Hill, in Mercer county, about and wide, were gathered into associations seven miles easterly from Harodsburg, or communities, in which they since enjoy and 21 miles south-westerly from Lexing. equal rights and privileges, in a unity of ton, containing between 400 and 500 interest in all things, both spiritual and members. The other is at South Union, temporal, after the order of the primitive Jesper Springs, Logan county, about 15 church. Wherever any branch of the miles north-easterly from Russellville, and Society finds a permanent location, this contains between 300 and 400 members. united interest is its ultimate order. One was formed at West Union, Knox Father Joseph deceased August 16th, county, Indiana, 16 miles above Vincen- 1796. Since that period, according to his ness, and contained about 200 members. directions, given by divine authority, the But on account of the unhealthiness of the administration and leading authority has location, has been dissolved, and the mem- been vested in a Ministry, and confirmed bers who resided there have removed to by the general approbation of the Society. other branches of this community. There This Ministry generally consists of four is, at present, a gradual increase of num. persons, two of each sex. bers in the various branches of the com- Concerning their mode of worship. munity, which are in a general state of This subject is generally greatly misunderstood. The people of this Society do of the Lord. (See 2 Saml. vi. 14.) This not believe that any external performance is considered figurative of the spiritual ark whatever, without the sincere devotion of of salvation, before which, according to the heart, with all the feelings of the soul, the faith of God's true witnesses, thouin devotion and praise to the Creator of sands and millions will yet rejoice in the all their powers and faculties, can be any dance. See also the return of the prodiacceptable worship to Him who looks at gal son. (Luke xv. 25.) We notice the heart. But in a united assembly, a these figurative representations and prounity of exercise in acts of devotion to phetic declarations as evidently pointing God, is desirable ; for harmony is beauti- to a day of greater and more glorious light, ful, and appears like the order of Heaven. which in those days was veiled in futurity, The people of this society were at first led and if this is not the commencement of into the manner of external worship by such a day, then where shall we look repeated operations of supernatural power for it? and divine light. These operations were The remarkable supernatural and spiritvarious, according to the various move. ual gists showered down upon the Aposments of the Spirit; but they find that tles and primitive Christians on the day they were fully supported. by the Scrip- of Pentecost and onward, have not only tures. It will be difficult to describe all been renewed in this church and society, the various modes of exercise given in the but extensively increased. See 1 Cor. worship of God at different times; because chap. xii., “ Diversities of gifts, but the the operations of the Spirit are so various, same spirit.” The gift of speaking in that even the leaders are unable to tell unknown tongues has been often and exbeforehand, what manner will be given by tensively witnessed. The gift of melothe Spirit in the next meeting. Yet, in a dious and heavenly songs has been very regular meeting, where nothing extraor. common. The gift of prophecy has been dinary appears, they sometimes exercise wonderful, by pouring forth a degree of in a regular dance, while formed in straight light and understanding never before relines, and sometimes in a regular march vealed to mortals. The gift of healing around the room, in harmony with regular has been osien witnessed, but not so comsongs sung on the occasion. Shouting mon as many other gifts. and clapping of hands, and many other Touching their religious tenets : “ they operations are frequently given, all which believe that the first light of salvation was have a tendency to keep the assembly given or made known to the Patriarchs by alive, with their hearts and all their senses promise ; and that they believed in the and feelings devoted to the service of God. promise of Christ, and were obedient to

Our benevolent Creator has given us the command of God made known unto hands and feet as well as tongues, which them, were the people of God; and were we are able to exercise in'our own service. accepted by him as righteous, or perfect And where a people are united in one in their generation, according to the mea. spirit, we know of no reason why a unity sure of light and truth manifested unto of exercise in the service of God should them ; which were as waters to the an. not be attained, so as to give the devotion kles ; signified by Ezekiel's vision of the of every active power of soul and body as holy waters, chap. xlvii. And although a free will offering to the God of all good- they could not receive regeneration, or the ness, who has given us these faculties. fulness of salvation, from the fleshy or When the Israelites were delivered from fallen nature in this life; because the ful. their Egyptian bondage, they praised God ness of time was not yet come, that they with songs and dances. (See Exod. chap. should receive the baptism of the Holy xv.) This was figurative of the deliver. Ghost and fire, for the destruction of the ance of spiritual Israel from the bondage body of sin, and purification of the soul. of sin. This dancing before the Lord was But Abraham being called and chosen of predicted by the ancient prophets. (See God, as the father of the faithful, was reJeremiah chap. xxxi.) See also the ac- ceived into covenant relation with God by count of David's dancing before the ark ! promise ; that in him, and his feed, all the

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